The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend

Written by Jerred Metz
Review by Joanna Urquhart

The persistent myth of angels appearing out of the clouds in August of 1914 in order to save the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force from destruction in its first full-scale encounter with German troops in World War I forms the basis for Metz’s intriguing and hugely readable book. This is a confident and at times strange blending of historical fact and fiction in which Lieutenant Maurice Dease and his fellow soldiers are indeed saved by an angel, their account of which is later written up and debated through the years, including by both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his most famous fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Metz is a very lively storyteller, and his narrative never slows down or slumps as he takes his readers into a starkly unsentimental version of the Great War (“I cannot count the number of amputations I have done” a German doctors says at one point. “My arm is sore from sawing”) and a warmly personal tour of its combatants on both sides. His main character, an evocatively counter-factual re-creation of a young British soldier named Tommy Atkins, is the most memorable thing in a book full of memorable things.

This is a strange, eloquent book, and I recommend it.